Sunday, February 27, 2011

White Goes Back!

As promised, here is another quick post to go along with my recent Winter workshop. For my second demo on day two, I picked a photograph of Pleasant Valley Road in Jeffersonville Vermont. This is a spot that never ceases to amaze my senses. The late afternoon light will make Mount Mansfield glow. I've never been able to get something down on the canvas that late in the day that I've been completely happy with. Here is Pleasant Valley a bit earlier in the afternoon with Mount Mansfield in the background looking as majestic as always.

Notice that there is a lot of White in this painting. By white I mean, a white house, white trim on the barn and lots of white snow. White that is right out of the tube is always a big no-no for winter painting because snow is always absorbing the color of the bright sun or reflecting sky color or other colors from objects in the landscape. Because snow is wet, it tends to absorb and reflect at the same time. This is especially true of snow that is on the ground plane.

We know that dark objects will get lighter, greyer and bluer as they recede. This is an important observation of atmospheric perspective. Middle value objects tend to stay about the same, but light objects tend to get darker as they recede into the distance.

Snow that is in sunlight will get slightly darker and warmer as it recedes. If you look at the pictures I've posted of the snow in sunlight on the mountain, you can see this transition taking place. If we want the white to go back, we know that we can't make it lighter than white and it stands to reason that if it goes back blue, we won't get the feeling that the snow is being lit by sunlight if both snow in light and snow in shadow goes to blue. So...warmer and greyer makes sense here. In theory, this is a simple concept but to really make it happen on the canvas in a convincing manner is something altogether different. Practice makes perfect!

My next post will be about my 'composition' workshop that I've just finished up with a great group of students.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Comforts of the Studio

This past weekend I taught my annual Winter workshop in my studio here in Woodstock Connecticut. The weekend was all about Winter painting, particularly how light behaves outdoors with snow on the ground. Winter sings its own song and it's a beautiful one. If you learn how to approach it with some knowledge, it will help a great deal when you go out there to paint the subject plein air. In the studio, everyone can relax in a comfortable environment which is more conducive to learning and asking questions.

For many years, I taught this workshop outdoors. There is always plenty of die-hard painters wanting to brave the elements and of course, being out there is always an experience unto itself. The problem would come up when the weather forecast for the weekend would be brutally cold and windy. That kind of environment just does not lend itself to much of a learning experience. The only learning you glean from this type of experience is that you shouldn't be out trying to paint in those extreme conditions.

Even when it was not the coldest of days, there was always a mix of students. Some of them were willing to be outside no-matter-what and some would find that they got cold quickly because they didn't bring what was asked of them for proper clothing or they would forget something at home. I remember one particular weekend of extreme temperatures where I could barely think in a straight line. I was dressed with all the right layers but the conditions made it so that my whole body was extremely busy just trying to stay warm. The demo I did was lacking to say the least and nobody talked. We all just wondered what we were doing out there! During the course of the weekend, I watched easels blow over and got to experience several canvases soaring through the air at the same time. It was like some type of interesting performance art or maybe more like a bad dream that I wanted to wake from!

Suffice it to say that I think the indoor Winter workshop is the perfect setting for learning. Everyone who attended the workshop this past weekend learned many things which they were able to apply to the paintings they worked on over the two day workshop. A lot of great questions came up and it was nice to be able to spend the time answering them, sometimes showing them by example. It was nice to be able to be in the moment instead of trying to answer them while simultaneously looking at fingers and ears that were clearly headed towards frost bite and wondering when I should call 911 !

On both mornings I talked about some specifics and then showed the students what I meant by painting a demonstration for them. I also showed them a digital slide show of winter paintings by many of my favorite snow painters. There were 156 images by Emile Gruppe, Lester Stevens, Carl Peters, Aldro Hibbard, Tommy Curtin and many more!  We paused at several of them to talk about why the paintings worked and also to discuss value and color relationships etc.

One thing that I stressed to students is that regardless of whether you are painting on an overcast day or a day full of bright winter sun, your painting needs to have a certain amount of warmth to it. A painting that is full of blue is not going to read correctly and if the viewer is freezing just looking at it, you haven't done your job correctly. Sure, it's okay to have it feel like winter and give the viewer a sense of the cold, but there is always a certain amount of warmth in a winter painting that is needed in order for it to feel truthful. There is a great overuse of blue in many a snow painting.

You should be able to put a winter painting into a gold frame and have it feel right in that frame. There are occasions when a silver frame feels correct on a winter painting, but generally speaking they should be able to live in a gold one. One other point I stressed was that if snow shadows in sunlight lean towards blue, you cannot use the same blue in your sky and expect it to live and breathe correctly.

Here are a few images from my first demo along with a few close-ups. In a couple of days, I will post the Sunday demo along with a few ideas. The demo from Sunday was all about how to get snow to go back in the distance correctly, in this case all the way back to the top of a mountain!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Winter Paints an Ugly Picture

I'm a big fan of winter. I love going outside to paint snow. I can't tell you how much satisfaction I get from seeing all the subtle color play going on out there. Winter has it's own language and it's a beautiful one.

Unfortunately, as much as I love snow, we have had record snowfall amounts here in Connecticut and now it's turning into an ugly season. A neighbors roof collapsed two weeks ago. Thankfully, she was able to get out of the house before it fell. The house is a total loss however and this is sad news. After this happened and with a forecast calling for more heavy snow on the way with possible ice, many of us scrambled to have roofs cleared in whatever way we could. I stood in line for an hour and a half waiting for a truck to come in with roof rakes at our local hardware store. I had made a call to Lowes thinking that they would have what I needed but instead got a big 'nope' when I asked if they had roof rakes and then I got a "I have no idea' when I asked if they were getting any roof rakes in. The guy was about as pleasant as Satan.

The back side of my house doesn't get sun and so I had almost 4 feet of snow up there on the roof. I had ice dams along the entire house that were at least a foot thick. My wife's studio is an old back porch that we converted and so the roof is almost flat. We started to get a leak. I turned off the heat to the room and set up a house fan to blow cold air at the spot where the water was leaking. It did the trick. I also filled panty-hose with ice melt and put a few up by the gutters so that it could work a channel into the ice dams and give a place for water to go.

Instead of spending time painting, I spent what felt like an eternity working to get snow off the whole house. I fell into a snow drift at one point and couldn't figure out how to get myself back up onto my feet. The combination of snow that was almost up to my waist and a roof rake that measures 21 feet long, made for a very comical approach to snow removal. It worked though.

We've had over 80 inches of snow since Winter began. We've had a nor'easter about once a week. Thankfully this past week we've only seen some scattered snow flurries and we've actually had some temperatures above freezing.

The farmers in Connecticut have really been hit by these record snowfall amounts. I've read that over 156 structures have fallen so far in the state and Winter is sure to rear it's ugly head some more before the season is over. In Woodstock, we have had 4 barn collapses that I know of. From a painters perspective, these are buildings that I love to paint. I'm heartbroken. I feel bad especially for the people who's lives are affected and for any animals that have been hurt or killed by these events.

A few winters ago, we had a couple heavy snowfalls and one of my favorite barns to paint in the town of Pomfret collapsed. One particular day, I loaded up my car and headed there to paint. I had a bad feeling on my drive there and sure enough, when I pulled into the parking area, the barn roof had collapsed and my heart sunk.

One of the barns that fell last week, was one of Connecticut's oldest barns. There was so much character to this barn and the size of the barn was impressive. The cupola up on the roof was fantastic. The owner had told me a few years back that he had tried to get some funding to save the barn but that it was too far gone. I've been painting it a lot since then, kinda like spending time with a friend. I painted it during each season in 2010. When we started getting record snowfall amounts in February, I just knew that this would be the season that it would come down. I took over 300 photos of the barn in January and February and it looked stunning in all that snow.

Here are some photos of a painting I did last Fall and a couple from the aftermath of the collapse last week.